Celebrating The Rescue Dog That Almost Wasn’t

We found our black Lab mix, Lucy, in a cage outside a Petsmart store one hot July Saturday morning 11 years ago. She’d been abandoned at a nearby house and the homeowner had kindly taken her to a vet, paid for shots and medical treatment and transferred her to a shelter, which had brought her to their weekly adoption event at Petsmart. About three months old, Lucy was black with a white belly and perky ears that stood at attention.

What drew me to Lucy was her stillness. All the other adoptable dogs around her were barking and yelping and scratching to get out. But not Lucy. She just sat in her cage watching the people go in and out of the store. Zen, I thought. And cute, too. I pictured her stretched out sleeping at my feet all day while I wrote. I drove home and brought the entire family back to test her out. She received unanimous approval.

We quickly learned that it is not that easy to adopt a dog. The shelter needed to make a home visit and had us fill out a long questionnaire regarding how we planned to care for her. Were we going to keep her outside? No. Were we going to train her? Yes. Were we going to regularly vaccinate her? Yes. Still, we had to wait three days to bring her home while the shelter lady figured out if we were worthy enough to parent Lucy the Abandoned Puppy.

When I finally went to retrieve her for good, she had morphed into a different dog. A strong, hyperactive one I could barely control. I wondered if they had given her a Valium for the adoption event. She almost jumped out the window on the way home.

On our first visit to the veterinarian, I brought the kids so they could be a part of the whole dog-caring process. The two vet techs giving her shots discussed her breed possibilities while they manhandled her.

“Hmmm. Lab and…pit bull?” one said.

“Yeah, definitely some type of terrier in her,” the other said. She examined her snout more closely. “Yeah. Pit.”

“Oh my God, I have a PIT BULL?” I said.

“Mix,” they said together. “Pit bull mix.” As if that made everything OK.

Suddenly, I was afraid of my cute puppy. I knew from all the horror stories in the newspapers that pit bulls were evil, child-eating machines. And I had two children that I had let near her mouth. I held Lucy’s leash all the way home in the car to make sure she didn’t snack on the kids while they were strapped in their car seats. I called my husband and told him the terrible news. He thought maybe I was overreacting.

I am a very loving and open-minded person, so…I tried to focus on the Lab part of the mix and concentrate on training her even as a tiny voice was telling me, give her back, give her back while another voice was saying, give the poor unwanted creature a chance. Don’t judge. She was a small puppy, after all. We gave her a chance.

Whenever we were walking her in the neighborhood and someone asked what kind of dog she was, both my boys would say, “she’s a pit bull!”

“No, no, she’s not. She’s a Lab mix. We don’t know what else she’s mixed with. Could be anything,” I would say. The people usually eyed me suspiciously and hurried away, even as Lucy tried to wrap herself around their legs. In a friendly way.

I made the boys practice the new line: Lab mix. Lab mix. Lab mix.

And then it happened. About three months after we adopted Lucy, I was at the stove cooking dinner and she was in a down-stay at my feet. A man walking two big, fluffy white dogs down the street appeared out the bay window and Lucy decided they needed to be annihilated. Immediately. She sprang from her spot, sprinted to the window and smashed through it. Glass shattered. I screamed. The poor man walking the dogs nearly had a heart attack. I envisioned the doggie bloodbath that was about to ensue and hollered at Lucy in a scary voice I didn’t even know I possessed to GET BACK HERE NOW!

To my complete surprise, she stopped and slowly backed through the shards of broken glass until she was all the way back in the dining room. She then sat perfectly still and silent while I gaped at the large hole in the front wall of my house and the shards of glass strewn all over the carpet. The man hurried away, leaving me alone with the destructive and unpredictable beast that I knew we couldn’t keep. She lay down and put her head on top of crossed paws.

“Too late!” I told her. “Bad dog!”

I called the shelter and left a pleading message on the answering machine: Please call me back as soon as you get this. We cannot, I repeat CANNOT keep Lucy. We need to return her ASAP.

The shelter lady didn’t call back that night or the next day or even the next week. The shelter lady was apparently on a long trip and wasn’t checking messages and didn’t call back for almost a month.

In the span of that month, 1) the window was fixed, 2) my older son repeatedly fell asleep curled up with Lucy in her crate, 3) Lucy went to sleep-away training and came back halfway civilized and 4) we taught her to sit, give a high-five, roll over and dance. By the time the shelter lady called back, we had fallen in love with Lucy. I wondered how many times the lady had listened to the type of message I’d left and if she’d really even been on a trip.

A dog that had the patience to be dressed like this deserved a second chance.

A dog with the patience to be dressed like this definitely deserved a second chance.

Lucy turned 11 sometime in April. That’s about 57 in dog years according to Online Conversion Dog Years Calculator. She hasn’t broken any more windows but she still hates other dogs. If you’re human, however, she will love you even if you are trying to break into the house. She’ll do a dance for you and then show you where the treats are.

Now if we could just get rid of that pesky crotch-sniffing habit, she’d be close to perfect.

Happy birthday, Lucy.


My Complicated Relationship With My iPad Mini

Amid last year’s pre-Christmas chaos, I had an epiphany: I would be happier if my life were simpler. I needed to embrace the concept of less. Less stress. Less stuff. Less technology. More face-to-face and less Facebook. By Christmas eve, I already felt happier in anticipation of the new year when I would put my plan into action. It would be a wonderful, quiet, small, stress-reduced, virtually technology-free year. I  was about to lean back into a smaller, cozier, peaceful time.

Unfortunately, I forgot to share my plan with the rest of my family.

The next morning my husband enthusiastically presented me with my gift: an iPad Mini. As I reluctantly fingered the sleek, snappy white packaging, I felt a small panic attack threatening to erupt. My whole new plan for simplicity and less technology was about to be thwarted. After I listened to my husband tick off the many AMAZING virtues of this overgrown iPhone, I believe what I said was, “Oh. Wow. Thanks. This thing scares me.” Image

I know, I know. It was a terrible, ungrateful thing to say. My teenage sons went buggy-eyed. My husband looked stricken. I knew he wanted that iPad more than anything. But he gave it to me because he thought it was the coolest thing available and that I should have it. And he’s a really nice guy. (He and his own iPad are very close, but, as he often tells me when listing all the cool stuff my iPad can do that his can’t, his is the first generation iPad. Woefully inferior and bulky).

So I was presented with a dilemma: choose to undermine my new, simpler, less-technology life plan or appear to be a cold, ungrateful bitch on Christmas Day. I went with the former and aggressively feigned enthusiasm for my new gadget. I would grow to love it, I said.

Since then, I admit that Mini and I haven’t exactly gotten together that much. Aside from downloading the Kindle app and checking my email, I haven’t taken the time to get to know Mini. The other day my husband saw her lying between stacks of newspapers and warned me not to recycle her. I didn’t have the heart to tell him that I hadn’t even known where she was.

I thought about officially regifting Mini to my husband, because she would bring him SO MUCH joy and because he looked so forlorn when we were in the airport last week and his iPad wasn’t up to the job of downloading something that he was sure Mini would zip right through. Unfortunately, Mini hadn’t made the trip with me, so I couldn’t offer.

When we returned from our travels a few days ago, I found Mini lying forlornly in my dark bedside table drawer. Her battery was at 87%. I’m not sure I’ve ever even recharged her. Since Christmas. That 87% made me feel really, really guilty. She was ready to go. Ready to do…whatever it is that Mini can do. She deserved an owner that would allow her to fulfill her destiny. I really needed to step up.

So the next morning I picked her up and opened her cover. Like magic, she sprang to life, cute and perky and eager. Since I usually write in my gratitude journal first thing in the morning, I consulted her about her thoughts on gratitude journals and she responded with: Gratitude Journal – The Life Changing App. For $3.99. After combing through a few other free  gratitude journal options that flashed obnoxious advertising for some casino fish game, I decided to spend the money and let Mini help me be more grateful. I could easily use a regular notebook to do the same thing, and I write much faster on paper than on Mini’s tiny keyboard, but I didn’t tell Mini any of that. I figured I owed her that consideration after all those months of neglect.

Here’s my digital journal entry from yesterday. Mini would like to point out that I could never upload photos to my paper gratitude journal like I can with this app. She does have a point. I guess.


When Survival Gratitude Leads You Astray

As a cancer survivor, I feel like I have been given a second chance to live. And I’m truly grateful to be alive.

But am I taking my Survival Gratitude too far? Has it turned into a sort of warped emotional crutch that is negatively affecting the very life for which I’m thankful?

It recently occurred to me that I use Survival Gratitude as an excuse to avoid doing some of the unpleasant work of the living. Specifically, I allow myself to avoid conflict in my personal relationships because I don’t want to ruin the magic of this beautiful second life. Compared to the prospect of death, whatever minor interpersonal conflicts existing in my life I know I can deal with. But here’s the problem: I’m not always “dealing” with them. Because dealing with issues implies taking an active role in addressing or at least acknowledging them rather than just choosing to ignore them.

Survival Gratitude is a very sneaky avoidance technique. For instance, it’s easy to overlook something by thinking, compared to cancer, this isn’t really that big a deal. I should just let it go. After all, I could be dead. But then that little thing grows and festers and eats at me until I am ready to explode, proving it was a big deal after all.

What about having to say no to helping someone who is very persuasive and good at laying on guilt? Survival Gratitude can sneak its golden claws into that situation too by shooting dangerous “shoulds” into my head. I should help him/her because I got the privilege of living. I should drive an hour on a weeknight to support his/her cause even though I don’t feel comfortable driving at night because I received the gift of life and need to give back whenever I can. I should, because if I don’t spend all my time giving to others, maybe the cancer will come back.

I wonder if Survival Gratitude as a warped form of emotional torture is common. And if so, why?

Do survivors feel so fortunate to be alive that we don’t want to “sweat the small stuff” but we sometimes lose track of just which stuff is small enough not to sweat over? Does it relate to guilt about all the emotional stress our cancer put our loved ones through. Does it relate to survivor’s guilt? I’m not sure. And I’m not even sure this is a problem for anyone other than me.

But I am going to make a vow today not to let my Survival Gratitude trick me into being a pushover or extending myself too much. Because I’ve already expressed my gratitude for surviving. Now I need to get down to the more difficult work of living. Authentically. Unapologetically. And also gratefully.

Note to self: Anyone who can build a sand "foot" can learn to use gratitude the right way

Note to self: Anyone who can build a sand “foot” can learn to use gratitude the way it’s intended!

The Many Kind Acts

Being originally from Boston, I have to say that yesterday’s bombings left me in shock and shook my faith in humanity a little. What kind of monsters would want to destroy such a celebratory day in Boston and leave a bloody trail of dead and injured? I felt like curling up in bed and hiding under the covers and waiting for all the terrible news to end. And I’m sure that’s just what the bombers want. To instill such fear in us that we retreat from each other. But that’s not what people did yesterday in Boston. They didn’t retreat, they embraced. They helped the injured. They offered warm coats and shelter and juice and comfort. Because the majority of people are good.

This blog post helped show that kind acts outnumber evil ones and always will. Read it if you’re needing to boost your faith in humanity today.

Many Moments of Kindness follow Solitary Acts of Aggression. | elephant journal.

A Simple Way to Ease Travel Envy

Are you one of those people who linger over the travel section of the newspaper on Sundays? Do you have a long bucket list of destinations to visit? Me too.

Number one on my list is Alaska. I want to do exactly what my friend and her family are doing this summer on their Alaskan cruise: kayak near the glaciers, hike the national parks, cruise the Inside Passage, appreciate the whales and sea lions, photograph bears and bald eagles, and explore Sitka and Juneau. I’m not proud of this, but hearing about their trip is excruciating.

I’m convinced  that the whole state of Alaska might just disappear under melting glaciers if I don’t get there soon. But I’m prepared. I’ve researched cruises and tours. I’ve priced airfare. I’ve proposed camping in tents and eating only one meal a day (filling in the rest with energy bars) to reduce expenses. I’ve filled a manila folder with so many ideas, places and potential itineraries that I’ve had to switch to an expandable folder. Alas, even with rustic accommodations and gastronomic sacrifice, neither of which my family is in favor of, it’s too expensive.

I have a debilitating case of Travel Envy which is interfering with my goal of living a life of gratitude.

So instead of lamenting all the wondrous places I will not be touring any time soon, I am “revisiting” the places I’ve already been. After all, great memories are just a click away on my computer. My current background photo is from a family trip to the Grand Canyon in March 2012. My husband and I got up before dawn and left our teenagers to sleep in while we took in the sunrise from the South Rim. It was so peaceful and beautiful and vast that I still shiver with awe just thinking about that morning. I’m grateful that I got to see The Grand Canyon. It used to be number one on my bucket list and now it is checked off.

I guess Alaska will still be there when I’m able to go. In the meantime, I’ll enjoy the Grand Canyon sunrise every time I boot up my Mac. And I’ll feel grateful.


Breaking Out of Emotional Prison

For nine years I  wasted precious energy being angry at and resenting someone WHO IS NOT EVEN ALIVE! Ridiculous, right? It’s not like I could tell him how I felt anymore. It’s not like it would do any good to be mad, but still. There I was.

Since being in emotional prison makes embracing gratitude virtually impossible, I decided to try and break out.

Photo courtesy Catholic Lane

An article on forgiveness and gratitude in Counseling Today created the “Aha!” moment I needed to escape from  my cell. Here’s the paragraph that made the difference:

“By practicing forgiveness, Grieco says, people are better able to accept and love life as it is and accept others as they are. “It’s a life skill and a health habit that I think everyone needs because we will regularly be disappointed by people and circumstances,” she says. Learning to forgive means developing resilience instead of adopting a conditional approach to life in which we can only
be happy if certain things happen, Grieco says.”

I always felt like my father was disappointed and uninterested in me so I spent years trying to please him and hold his attention, including getting the degree he favored and pursuing the hard-driving career he advocated. When I realized that I was miserable and that I still didn’t have his interest or approval anyway, I decided to marry, start a family and stay home to raise my children. His interest in me plummeted. Our phone conversations became weekly business transactions: How are the kids? How are you? Any news? Ok, talk to you next week.

I remember on one visit home, my husband and I were out to dinner with my dad, another couple and their son, a newly minted MBA. I watched as my dad quizzed this guy on his job, his tactics, his clients, his boss, the marketing strategy of his firm, etc. My  dad was riveted. He made eye contact. He listened. He asked follow-up questions. I held back tears. His authentic interest was what I craved most from my dad, and here he was, giving it to someone else that we barely knew, right in front of me. Because he felt like I had nothing interesting to say. Or so I thought at the time.

Sadly, I realized too late that maybe my perception of his disappointment and disinterest was actually my own feelings of insecurity and disappointment in myself. Maybe he was doing the best he could and he wasn’t sure how to connect with me if we weren’t talking about the hard business topics he felt most comfortable with. After all, my mom was the emotional bridge in our family and since she had died ten years before, my dad and I had lost our connection, as rickety as it had been in the first place. Perhaps if I had articulated my feelings before he died, he might have said, “That’s what you think? Of course that’s not how I feel. I love you and am so proud of you and I’m sorry I didn’t communicate that to you.”

I like to think that’s what he would have said. But I never spoke up. Then I wasted nine years being angry and resentful.

I can see now that the consequences of being an emotional inmate were evident in the arm’s length way I approached most relationships. In trying to avoid feeling hurt, rejection, disapproval, embarrassment, shame and conflict, how many potential friendships had I missed out on? How many people had I made feel like I wasn’t interested in them? How many risks didn’t I take because I heard his voice (or mine) saying I wasn’t good enough?

I didn’t want to be that kind of person anymore. I wanted to be someone who was able to approach life and people with love and gratitude. Someone who could feel confident enough to take a risk, even if it meant that I might fail. Someone who made decisions based on what I wanted rather than what I thought someone wanted for me.

That’s why I needed to forgive my father and myself, once and for all.

And I’m grateful that I did.

Are you in emotional prison? Maybe it’s time you break out by forgiving those who sentenced you, even if one of those people is yourself.